Fewer places at NI universities, higher expectations for those places and £9k fees in England have all played a part in the growing number of students ditching A-levels locally.
South West College, which has campuses in both Cookstown and Dungannon, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students taking up their higher education (HE) courses over the past five years - 400 per cent in fact.
College Director Mr Malachy McAleer said: “The college has experienced significant growth in recent years, particularly in the areas of apprenticeships and higher education (HE) courses, with HE places growing by an unprecedented 400% in the last 5 years.
“This demonstrates a shift in focus by young adults, their parents and employers towards career-specific qualifications”.
Asked whether St Patrick’s Academy has been hit by this growth, principal Fintan Donnelly said there are a number of contributing factors in the numbers leaving after GSCE.
Normally, he said, the school would lose 20 students to South West College, but that this year the number was up.
He put this down to improved careers advice for students, how they performed in their GCSEs, the cost of doing a degree, the growth of apprenticeships and the fact that colleges are now providing a very clear alternative.
“It varies year-on-year,” he explained. “A lot depends on what the kids want to do (but) more than 20 would leave after year 12.”
But he added, it’s all about putting the “students on the right path” - and Cookstown High School principal, Graham Montgomery, agrees.
While they lose a few students post GCSE, he said the school’s “numbers have remained constant over the last five years” because they offer “a variety of traditional A Levels and more vocational BTEC qualifications”.
Both principals, however, agreed that options for students in Northern Ireland are closing in due to the reduction in university places.